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Tales from Kentucky Lawyers

William Montell

Publication Year: 2003

" “A woman was sitting on the witness stand, and the lawyer asked her, ‘Did you, or did you not, on the night of June 23rd have sex with a hippie on the back of a motorcycle in a peach orchard?’ She thought for a few minutes, then said, ‘What was that date again?’”—from the book Lawyers have long been known as master storytellers, and those from Kentucky are certainly no exception. Veteran oral historian and folklorist Lynwood Montell has collected tales from dozens of lawyers and judges from throughout the Bluegrass State, ranging from the story about the tough Jackson County judge who fined himself for being late to court to unwelcome dogs in the courtroom. Recorded just as they have been told for generations, these stories are sometimes funny, sometimes sad or frightening, sometimes raw and harrowing, but always remarkable. Far more than collection of lawyer jokes, Tales from Kentucky Lawyers recounts the most insightful, entertaining, and occasionally heartbreaking stories ever told by and about Kentucky lawyers and their clients, covering the spectrum from arson to homicide, domestic disagreements to sexual abuse, and everything in between. Tales from Kentucky Lawyers is a valuable resource for folklorists as well as an entertaining and vivid account of the often-surprising legal world.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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Dedicated to my wife, Linda

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pp. vi-viii

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pp. 1-8

Lawyers know how to spin a good yarn. They also know how to fascinate an audience. My announcement in early 2000 that I would collect stories from lawyers and judges was met with great enthusiasm by members of the legal profession, by academicians, and especially by the general public. ...

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1. Kentucky Courts, Past and Present

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pp. 9-22

Many of the stories in this book illustrate how Kentucky's hardworking common people, the public personnel on all levels, and the occasional villains and rascals feel about peers, relatives, judges, and lawyers during periods of tension-filled social stress. Some lawyers and judges, in addition to sharing their favorite stories ...

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2. Theft

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pp. 23-29

Most attorneys consider theft to be one of the most difficult crimes to defend, as the jury typically consists of persons who value honesty. Yet, on occasion a few jury members themselves might suffer lingering feelings of guilt for having stolen items in times past; to deny the reality of their own conduct and to condemn ...

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3. Court Fines

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pp. 30-33

Court costs and fines, both past and present, are described in the first chapter. All who commented on this facet of the judicial system agree that legal fees and court costs have skyrocketed in recent times and will likely continue to do so. The three following humorous accounts about court fines take the reader back many years ...

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4. Animal Stories

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pp. 34-42

The following animal stories include separate accounts of an owl, a hog, a cow, a cat, a mule, horses, chickens, and dogs. Interestingly enough, men were typically the owners of these animals. The animals in these stories were almost always treated like family members. ...

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5. Ugly Words in Court

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pp. 43-49

Ugly words are taboo in the courtroom, and are thus rarely used there by attorneys and judges. However, some bad words and off-color stories are said to be in vogue in the chamber, which is where judge and lawyers gather in the courthouse. Edward Jackson of Beattyville states that if someone uses an ugly word ...

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6. Adultery

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pp. 50-56

Kentucky residents have a double standard on sexual conduct and other forms of behavior. Many persons think it is perfectly all right for two adults to have sex with one another without the benefit of clergy. Most states, including Kentucky, have eliminated adultery and fornication as crimes. For example, if a married man and ...

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7. Homicide

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pp. 57-85

The following tales, which recount homicidal actions and the perpetrators' motivations, number among the most truly bizarre stories in the book. The stories describe deadly family feuds; murders fueled by drugs, alcohol, and affairs; spousal killings; and numerous other accounts of victims and their killers. ...

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8. Blunders

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pp. 86-98

Legal professionals do the same thing day after day, much like persons who work in machine shops; thus, because courtroom proceedings are routine, judges and lawyers rarely commit blunders in court. However, those professionals who have never previously served as a judge, defense lawyer, or prosecutor often make errors, ...

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9. Misunderstandings

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pp. 99-107

Although many of the lawyers and judges interviewed are superb storytellers who can express themselves clearly, they often must use legal terminology that average citizens do not fully understand. Some of the more humorous stories in this book are the result of witnesses, plaintiffs, defendants, jurors, and others who either ...

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10. Unexpected Responses

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pp. 108-122

Skilled trial lawyers are particularly adept at examining witnesses on the stand in an effort to uncover the truth. Unexpected responses to their questions can make the task enormously difficult and occasionally very humorous. As the first story in this category reveals, judges also sometimes receive funny responses to their questions. ...

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11. Moonshining

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pp. 123-132

Of the various folk heroes who have captured the imagination of Americans, few occupy such a prominent position as the moonshiner. With the ability to rig up stills in remote mountain hollows and outsmart revenue agents, these brewers of illicit alcohol were nonetheless no strangers to the Kentucky court system over the years. ...

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12. Coal Mining

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pp. 133-143

Coal mining was at one time the most important economic enterprise both in the eastern Kentucky mountains and in some of the state's western counties. Mines constituted the major source of employment for numerous men and a few local women from the early to middle years of the twentieth century. ...

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13. Mentally Disabled

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pp. 144-150

In the words of Beattyville judge Edward Jackson, "Mentally retarded persons fall into two categories. One category consists of those that have always been mentally retarded, and, two, those who get retarded when they get a little old. When these matters come to court, they get a twelve-person jury and usually they are uncontested. ...

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14. Domestic Mistreatment and Divorce

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pp. 151-159

Stories in this category are diverse, ranging from verbal abuse to cruel, sometimes violent, mistreatment of spouses, and sometimes even of children. Many domestic violent petitions are filed in contemporary times, especially by mothers who go to the courthouse to get a divorce and to win custody of the children; ...

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15 . Family Disagreements

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pp. 160-167

We had one case where we tried it over in Webster County, and it was a very interesting [family] will contest. This man had been declared incompetent, and that was sort of back in the days when maybe incompetency proceedings were not as foolproof as they are now. We have some safeguards now to try to keep ...

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16. Elections and Politics

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pp. 168-178

Stories in this category demonstrate both that a rigid political division persists between Democrats and Republicans across the years and that some persons run for office several times but are never elected. Physical encounters between contestants, such as the one described below, have occurred in all portions of the state, ...

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17. Judges' Support of the Accused

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pp. 179-184

Judges are typically highly respected, both by lawyers and others appearing before them during court sessions. However, on occasion, judges do make judicial mistakes, thus causing lawyers to appeal the decision for reversal. At other times, the judge may dismiss all charges against the accused, only to find out later ...

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18. Physical Abuse

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pp. 185-189

There was one case we had in which this lady lived with a fellow. Whenever she'd get mad at him, she'd come in and swear out a warrant that he'd beat her: jumped on her, threatened her, or something. The judge would give her a restraining order against him for coming around her. Then she'd be back with this man ...

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19. The Bench and the Bar

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pp. 190-203

Lawyer and judge stories are about incidents both in and out of the courtroom that typically do not fit other story categories in this book. These accounts describe judges in life-threatening situations; judges who are not in favor of prosecuting the person(s) charged, perhaps due to personal relationships; ...

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20. Sexual Charges and Sexual Abuse

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pp. 204-213

Lawyers and judges prefer not to tell stories that relate to sex, sexual abuse, and sexual charges. Due to the offensive nature of the bulk of these sexual charge and sexual abuse accounts, the author suggests that they be read, if at all, only by persons who feel they can cope with the contents. ...

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21. Illegitimacy

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pp. 214-218

One of my most interesting cases is about the case in which I was involved after I had been a lawyer for only about fifteen minutes. A young man walked into my office and said, "My father died without a will. I'm one of his illegitimate children, and I would like to inherit from his estate." ...

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22. Jury Justice/Injustice

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pp. 219-232

Lawyers who must try their cases before jurors hold diverse opinions as to the fairness of the jury system. One lawyer, who recalled a time when indecisive jurors "would pitch a coin up to determine whether to find the defendant guilty or not guilty," told me that the jury system safeguards the public against overly zealous judges. ...

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23. Disorder in the Court

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pp. 233-238

Seldom are there contemporary episodes of physical conflicts in court. However, verbal disagreements are still very common in some instances, especially in the hallway or other areas outside the courtroom. When lawyers and judges were asked about physical conflicts in or just outside the courtroom, a few stated ...

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24. Prisoners

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pp. 239-241

Many stories in this book tell about court cases in which the guilty persons were sent to prison. However, few accounts were recorded that featured individuals who were actually in prison at the time. Perhaps it is a truism that once a trial is completed, lawyers and judges seldom have contact with those persons who go to prison. ...

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25. Miscellaneous

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pp. 242-260

Most stories in the miscellaneous category are closely related to themes found in the regular story categories in this book, but not really close enough to be assigned to one of the various other categories. Nevertheless, some of these miscellaneous stories, such as those about the TVA dams and the famous fiddle ...

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Biographies of Storytellers

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pp. 261-264

Keith Bartley was born in 1966 in Floyd County. He graduated from Pikeville College, then attended Salmon P. Chase College of Law, Notthern Kentucky University, from which he graduated in 1991. He has practiced law in Prestonsburg since then and has served as Floyd County Attorney since 1996. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813127132
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813122946

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2003